Archives for June, 2012
Dear readers of Partners in Wellness, Today I say goodbye to you as the author of Partners in Wellness. To discontinue authorship of this blog was a difficult decision, and I hope that someone will decide supporting the partners of those with mental illness is a topic worth writing about in the future. When I began this blog in March of 2011, it was because there were very few resources that spoke specifically to the partners of those who have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, eating disorders, schizophrenia, etc. In my work as a therapist, I witnessed the demise of several relationships because partners did not learn how to manage their feelings about my clients' illnesses, nor were partners educated about what to expect, or how to navigate the sometimes choppy relationship waters that come along with mental illnesses. My hope was that this blog would be a solid source of information for those seeking answers. During the past few months, I have gone through significant personal and professional changes. My father died in March, nine days after post-surgical complications revealed he had metastatic cancer. Two weeks later, I accepted a new position at Duke University Hospital, and my days are now filled by listening to and resolving patient and visitor concerns instead of sitting in a quiet therapy office with clients.
Leading up to the birth of a child, the majority of the attention is focused on mom because--let's face it--she is doing the hard work. After birth, Mom also tends to shoulder much of the responsibility for the newborn, especially if she is breast-feeding. Even the most well-adjusted, connected, and caring fathers are likely not going to get as much attention as mom and baby, and that includes when it comes to the adjustment period of having a newborn. While there are many programs and screenings for post-partum depression in mothers, not much attention has been paid to Dad's well-being. A recent study conducted in Australia had some startling findings: new fathers are just as likely to suffer from the "baby blues" as new mothers. Chief researcher Jan Nicholson, Ph.D. defined the "baby blues" as a condition which includes symptoms of anxiety, worry, stress, feeling unable to cope, feeling blue and despairing that things won’t get better. The study results revealed that new dads have a 40% higher rate of these symptoms than men of similar age and background. The study's authors are saying that it is time to stop thinking the "baby blues" only happen to mothers, and start paying attention to the mental health of both parents. When you add in the fact that men are less likely to seek professional help for depression, this makes an already difficult situation more challenging. What can you do if you suspect a new dad has the "baby blues"?
When you have a partner with mental illness, you are likely always on alert for behaviors that might indicate the illness is progressing. Was that laugh too loud, and a sign of impending mania?...Does the fact that he doesn't want to go to the party mean his depression is coming back?...Did he forget to pick up the dry cleaning because he didn't take his ADHD meds?...Did she skip dessert because she's full or because her eating disorder is telling her she should?...Is he jumpy because of his PTSD or did he just have too much coffee this morning? As the supportive partner, it can be exhausting to have these thoughts all the time. You have likely been through the mill with your partner's behaviors that are due to their illness, and having these kinds of thoughts are a defense mechanism to protect yourself from being caught off guard again. But there's a flip side to this story, too: your partner may not be feeling as if it is okay to be themselves.
If you have a partner with anxiety--whether it is "everyday anxiety" or a full-blown anxiety disorder--you know the ways anxiety can wreak havoc on your lives and your relationship. It may feel like everything revolves around what will and will not make your partner anxious. Feelings of frustration, unfairness and anger on your part are all normal. Since anxiety is one of the easiest psychiatric disorders to treat, hopefully your partner is in treatment for it. If not, encouragement about the benefits of therapy for anxiety might be in order. Whether or not your partner is in treatment, here are ten tips for handling partner anxiety:
The world can be an unfriendly place, and defense mechanisms are how we survive. If you have a partner with a personality disorder, the way they use defense mechanisms can be confusing, frustrating, and crazy-making. You may continuously be taken by surprise when something that seems logical to you is twisted into something else that puts your partner into a rage. As a result, you yourself likely use defense mechanisms in order to survive and try to maintain some harmony in the relationship. Here are some of the common problems that play out in relationships where one person has a personality disorder: Splitting: One moment, you are perfect and can do no wrong; the next, you are being screamed at, ducking thrown objects, and rescuing items from being destroyed. People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in particular struggle with the "gray" areas of situations, meaning that they tend to think in all-or-nothing terms. This then leads to either you and your behavior being "all good" or "all bad." The famous book about BPD, titled I Hate You--Don't Leave Me by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus, depicts another example of splitting. As the partner, it can be scary to wonder when the next turn is going to come, and what will trigger it.
Many people associate seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with the cold, dark, winter months. So, it may come as a surprise to you when your partner begins to experience depression during the summer. After all, summer is a time of vacations, warmer weather, and more hours of daylight, and those are good things, right? Yes, that's true. But summer also means changes in schedule (especially if your kids are out of school), heat intolerance for some, body image problems when pulling out bathing suits and shorts, and general feelings of not being "normal" when it seems like everyone else is happy this time of the year. On top of that, if your partner seeks treatment for their depression, therapists and doctors often take summer vacations like everyone else, which can leave your partner without regular treatment, or with an unfamiliar provider who is offering coverage for your partner's therapist. What do you need to know about your partner's summer depression?
"If you just tried harder, you could do what I'm telling you to do!" People with ADHD--children or adults--hear this phrase from frustrated teachers, supervisors, and yes, even partners, far too often. From the outside, the symptoms of ADHD can make it look as if your partner isn't trying hard enough, resulting in things being forgotten or left unfinished. The reality couldn't be further from the truth: the person with ADHD is likely trying harder than anyone else, but their brain is not cooperating effectively. ADHD brains are constantly processing information, but parts of the ADHD brain don't work as well in assimilating information as efficiently as a non-ADHD brain. So it's not that your partner isn't trying--they are, but sometimes it won't be as quickly or accurately as we would like, or the end result may come out differently than we had expected (see this post about what people with ADHD would like you to know about how their brains work).
Today's post is Part 2 on how to help kids who have a parent with a mental illness. In Part 1, we discussed how kids think about and react to having an ill parent. This post will address how to talk with kids when their Mom or Dad has a mental illness, and provide helpful resources. Talking with kids about mental illness Experts recommend that you address these main topics with kids when Mom or Dad have a mental illness: What is it?, Will I get it?, and Will Mom/Dad get better?: Obviously, this will take a little research on your part ahead of time so that you can accurately answer your child's questions. It is okay to say, "I don't know, but I will find out," instead of lying, stretching the truth, or ignoring your child's question if you aren't sure of the answer. See the next topic for more on that...
When a parent is mentally ill, children are often confused, scared, angry, and/or worried. Depending on their ages, how long the parent has been symptomatic, and experiences with Mom or Dad being sick, children need appropriate levels of education and support. Children of parents with mental illness are at risk a range of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, alcoholism, and personality disorders. In this two-part blog, we'll first look at how kids perceive, react to, and think about having a parent with a mental illness. In Part 2, we'll discuss how to best help kids and offer resources.